Among the Warren Stans at The Wing’s Mock Caucus
Hillary Clinton’s former Iowa caucus field director led members of the feminist co-working space in a stab at the quadrennial ritual
The pitches were coming fast and furious: Elizabeth Warren is the unity candidate. No, it’s Bernie Sanders who has the best chance to win. Actually, Joe Biden has the experience needed to take the United States forward. Don’t forget that Amy Klobuchar has a track record of beating Republican incumbents! But if we’re being real, Pete Buttigieg can take on Donald Trump.
These conversations could have happened at any caucus site in Iowa; instead, they took place at the SoHo branch of The Wing, the exclusive women’s club and co-working space. The mock caucus allowed members and their guests to forget New York’s inconsequential April 28 primary, and instead indulge in an evening of imagining their political views mattered as much in the process as those of a Midwestern soybean farmer.
At the helm was caucus pro Denise Feriozzi, Hillary Clinton’s Iowa caucus field director and a principal at Civitas Public Affairs Group. Her job on Monday night was educational. Standing in front of a humongous screen broadcasting CNN, before a crowd of around 70 women and a few men sitting in coral-colored folding chairs, Feriozzi tried her best to deliver a crash course in the confusing art of caucusing. (Also on hand to make real-life pitches were representatives from the Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg campaigns — the latter bearing gifts of “Women for Bloomberg” T-shirts.)
Members — in this case, voters of the fictional Wing County — would gather in the parts of the room dedicated to their candidate of choice. If their candidate met the viability threshold of 10 people, they would not be allowed to pick another to support. If the candidate did not meet the threshold, voters would have three options: realign with a viable candidate, join forces with other supporters of non-viable candidates to try to meet the threshold, or just go home. Based on the first and second alignments there would be some magic math that would determine the “winner” of the caucuses and assign a number of delegates to them. In Wing County’s case, a total of four delegates would be up for grabs.
As she fielded questions from the crowd, Feriozzi said she was aware that the caucus system is not perfect. “Iowa and New Hampshire, as the first primary state, have outsized power,” she noted. That fact appeared to be a source of anxiety for the young, liberal New Yorkers who turned out in Wing County. The Iowa caucuses can be exclusionary to working-class voters, caretakers, and people with disabilities, members argued. And then there’s the fact that Iowa is 93% white (New York City is 43% white), and not at all representative of the U.S., the Democratic Party, or even party strongholds. But the members of Wing County also seemed excited to practice the small-scale democracy that Iowa has hewn to for so long.
When it came time to caucus, the rules were solemnly laid out. Slowly, members came forward as precinct captains — representatives for each campaign — though most had to give a disclaimer first. “I actually support Warren’’ is how the captains for Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer began their short, impromptu pitches. One of three men in the audience spoke up in favor of Andrew Yang. Audrey Gelman, The Wing’s CEO and co-founder, went to bat for Bernie Sanders.
Over the next seven minutes, everyone moved swiftly to the areas where representatives for their preferred candidate had assembled. There wasn’t much negotiating for those who had made up their minds. By the end of the first round, two candidates had cleared the 10-person viability threshold: Warren, with 30 supporters, and Sanders, with 14. In the second round, it was a battle for the representatives of Bloomberg and Yang (who had six people each), Biden (four supporters), Buttigieg (three voters), Booker (two people, even though he dropped out in January), Klobuchar and Steyer (one each). Tulsi Gabbard was excluded after no one would come forward to be a precinct captain on her behalf.
Bloomberg’s team tried to get other members to join the group in order to reach the viability threshold, and a few people remained “uncommitted” to any candidates. In an effort to convince members, people standing up for both Sanders and Biden insisted that he would pick a woman as his running mate.
In the end, all but two candidates failed to reach the viability threshold. Warren and Sanders emerged victorious with 41 and 18 supporters each, which translated to three delegates for the Massachusetts senator and one for the Vermont populist.
The event ended with reflections on the process. There were calls to rally behind whoever ends up being the nominee, reminders that the down-ballot elections matter too, and there was an effort to ask women to use their political power because “women gave Trump the election” — to which several voices shouted, “It was white women!”